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The Artist/Agent Team

by Chris Tugeau

Chris Tugeau is an artist and artist's representative (also known as an artist's agent), specializing in children's book publishing, including trade and educational markets. This article is used by permission. It and other articles can be found at her excellent web site at www.catugeau.com

ARTIST AGENT or Artist's Representative - those words should bring good thoughts to a freelance artist: someone who believes in them, nurtures their talent, advises them on directions, negotiates those nasty business problems -- and gets them paying jobs! Sounds great, but what is the reality of this relationship? What should the artist's expectations be? When is the artist ready for or in need of an agent?

There are various kinds of personal styles in agents just as there are with artists. Once the artist is truly ready to have an agent, he/she must work at finding a good match. This can take time. It is not unusual to need a year of working together before both feel comfortable with the match. Occasionally, you can tell after the first contact -- or it may take several tries with several agents.

I received a lovely note recently that I think will help illustrate this matchmaking. The artist wrote, "My first agent never spoke to me. My second agent only talked about herself and her problems…" This artist had been looking for direction and guidance. After some time together, we are just now connecting on the kinds of books she wants to be doing.

It's a two-way street. You need to be available and cooperatively involved. Agents put a lot of unpaid time into helping an artist develop. This is the reason agents are often understandably reluctant to take on an unproved artist. However, if there is talented promise and enthusiasm, this developing work can be very rewarding for both.

Some artists want a "hands off" approach: a "here is my work, now get me jobs" attitude. Others may want a person they can call comfortably and talk to, even vent with. Whatever the case, you may find a working relationship in your own city or across the continent. With today's communications -- and a little bit of luck -- you can find work and agents just about anywhere.

So, are YOU ready? You MUST be brutally honest with yourself. Is the quality of your work up to the professional standard? Does it compare well with the work you see in promotional books (with agents?) and on their web sites? Do you have a minimum of 10-15 strong samples that are truly representative of your style, and that are directed to the market the agent represents. Do you have preferably some published work to show? Can you pay for a promotional mailer piece and perhaps a page in a directory book? Can you commit to deadlines, and know how long it takes you to complete each type of piece? Don't waste their time, or yours, if the answers aren't all "yes!"

If you are accepted for representation, expect to be asked to provide promotional samples that the agent can immediately send out to clients. You can't get work if the buyers don't know to ask for you! (I say this constantly!) You will also need portfolio pieces to show, and duplicates for sending out on loan. Also expect some sort of agreement, written preferably, so that all expectations on both sides are clear from the start…including how to end the relationship.

Do you need an agent? If you really hate to represent yourself, it's an easy ‘yes." I, however, encourage my artists to continue to self-promote some if they can and wish to do so. I feel this experience helps them grow professionally, and to better know the needs of the market. Their expectations of me are far more realistic too! Some agents forbid this however. Of course, only ONE agent must show your samples in a given market. (be VERY careful of ‘toe stepping") Of course, if you are so busy in one area that you have no time to self-promote, and agent can be invaluable. Just remember, you need to be able to accept new work in the agent's area also, or the agent can't afford to hold on to you! Lastly, if you are a terrible negotiator an agent can be a financial godsend and business savior. Again, you and your agent should learn to work together as The Dream Team to best fulfill both your needs.

For more information: Agents and Artist's Reps: A Primer

Edited: first appeared in the SCBWI Metro NY Newsletter Spring ‘97
© Chris Tugeau
May not be reproduced or printed, except for personal use, without permission.

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